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Leading Korea skating official resigns after Sochi flop

By Narae Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - The powerful vice chairman of the Korean Skating Union (KSU), Jeon Myung-gyu, resigned on Monday as South Korea moved to put a disappointing Sochi Olympics behind it and start building for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.

The KSU came under fire after the men's short track team failed to win a medal in Sochi, while Viktor Ahn, who won three golds for Korea in 2006 before switching allegiance to Russia, took three more titles for his adopted country.

Speculation was rife that factional infighting and favoritism was behind Ahn's switch, and President Park Geun-hye ordered an investigation into the case.

However, a KSU official told Reuters on Monday that Jeon's decision to step down was based purely on the Sochi disappointment.

"His resignation today has nothing to do with the allegation (that he is behind the factional infighting). He took the responsibility for the disappointing performance of the Korean team in Sochi," the official said by telephone.

"Since he has accomplished a lot for Korean skating, if we can seek help from him later we will."

South Korea is the traditional powerhouse of short track speed skating, topping the medal count in the sport at five of the past six Olympics.

But at Sochi, South Korea failed to win a single medal in the four men's races, while the women won two golds, a silver and two bronze medals.

The men's woes were compounded by former team mate Ahn's storming show.

The skater, racing under the name Ahn Hyun-soo, won three golds and a bronze for South Korea at the Turin Games before falling out with the KSU after being passed over for Vancouver in 2010 and taking up Russian citizenship.

He won three golds and a bronze for his adopted country in Sochi and confirmed his place as the sport's greatest Olympian.

South Korea's speed skating team brought home a gold and silver medal, but 500 meters champion Mo Tae-bum and 10,000 holder Lee Seung-hoon finished out of the medals.

SEVERAL SETBACKS

KSU chairman Kim Jae-yeol told local media on Monday: "We have launched a committee aimed at improving Korean skating for Pyeongchang.

"Jeon Myung-gyu has voluntarily resigned due to the disappointing performance of the men's skating team in Sochi.

"We will make the way we work objective and try our best to advance one step forward. We will be better at our job since the national project, the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, is approaching," he was quoted as saying by Yonhap News agency.

South Korea's preparations for the 2014 Winter Games suffered several serious setbacks, including the removal of a coach due to allegations of harassment.

The mood was dampened further when former short track world champion Noh Jin-kyu was diagnosed with cancer.

South Korea's struggles in Sochi prompted President Park to demand answers to why Ahn switched nationality.

"What is the reason?" she asked. "We have to look back on whether it is because of irregularities lying in the sports world, such as factionalism, favouritism and judging corruption."

Kim Chong, a vice minister of culture, sports and tourism in charge of sports affairs, was quoted by Yonhap during the Games as saying: "After the Sochi Winter Olympics we will review the entire system at the KSU to see if there had been any corruption or feuds in selecting national team skaters and coaches."

(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O'Brien)

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